Joint Physical Care or Physical Custody - What Is It?


In Iowa there are two basic types of child custody legal custody and physical custody.

Legal Custody
Legal custody is the right to ask questions and make decisions about important matters concerning minor children. Joint legal custody gives both parents the right to participate in decision making about a child's education, health care and other similar issues.

Joint legal custody is common. The other alternative is sole legal custody which is used when the parents cannot communicate or it may be dangerous for them to communicate. Then only one parent has the right to make decisions. Having legal custody does not mean that a parent has the right to have the child live with that parent. The court decides a separate issue about who the child will live with, called physical care or custody.

Physical Care or Custody

The court can award one parent primary physical care. That means one parent has a child for most of the time. The other parent has visitation with the child. A change in the law makes it a bit easier for a court to grant both parents joint physical care. This usually means a child will live with both parents approximately fifty (50) percent of the time.

Either parent can ask for joint physical care. If the court denies the request, the court has to say specifically why joint physical care is not in the best interest of the child. The Iowa Supreme Court has said that several factors have to be considered when deciding about joint physical care:

  1. The amount of time that both parents have spent with the children. If the time is about equal, that would make it more likely that joint physical care would be ordered.
  2. The ability of parents to communicate and show mutual respect. If one parent shows controlling behavior or there is evidence of domestic abuse, it is less likely that joint physical care would be ordered.
  3. The degree of conflict between parents. It will be less likely that joint physical care is awarded if one parent objects or if there is a history of conflict.
  4. The ability of parents to agree about approaches to daily matters. If the parents cannot agree about things like discipline and education, it is less likely that joint physical care will be ordered.

Joint physical care may have an impact on child support, public benefits and tax issues.

Last Review and Update: Oct 06, 2011